Italy's days as one of the countries violating Europe's basic civil rights are numbered. It is not legalizing gay marriage, and it probably won't recognize stepchild adoption rights either. But it is finally on its way to recognizing civil unions -- and for the country that harbors the Pope, the Vatican, and a deeply Catholic public, this is a key step forward.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi reaffirmed this step when he listed it among his administration's priorities after winning the 2013 primary election. With or without stepchild adoption rights, goes his mantra, we will have a new law. The central task now is to win the Senate's vote on the controversial Cirinná bill when it convenes on January 28.
"The Catholic wings of the Democratic party and the government oppose the measure, but they do so to publicly safeguard their own moral values rather than to sink the project."
Several reasons underlie Renzi's decision. He wants to send a message to his leftist constituents in the Democratic party. These voters are currently disoriented by the centrist mark he has made on the economy, as well as by his executive push toward a constitutional reform referendum that many observers -- including from his own party -- have described as revealing an authoritarian impulse.
The upcoming spring elections in key cities such as Naples, Turin, Milan, and Rome will function as a midterm evaluation of his first two and a half years in office.
We've gotten used to seeing the proposals of this undeniably pragmatic premier succeed, but this project will do more than display Renzi's considerable political will. While opponents to LGBT unions do exist, they don't seem to pose an insurmountable obstacle. The Catholic wings of the Democratic party and the government oppose the measure, but they do so to publicly safeguard their own moral values rather than to sink the project (as they did in 2007 under Prodi's government). And the opposition parties are divided between entertainer and activist Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement and former Prime Minister Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.
On the other hand, recent opinion polls indicate that the Italian public has come to grips with the need to give some legal form to these unions. However, they remain dubious about adoptions by gay couples. Even the Catholic world, which has been wrestling with Pope Francis' new direction and the scandals that have weakened the Vatican, at times seems ready for the country to catch up with the rest of Europe.
"Italy should be able to avoid further condemnation by the European Court of Human Rights, which has asked the country to legally recognize same-sex couples."
However, the Maginot line built by the Catholic Church hierarchy still holds up. After signs of a more lenient position towards gay people, Cardinal Bagnasco -- President of the Italian Bishops -- praised Family Day as a demonstration defending the traditional family structure, and asked Parliament to pay attention to issues that are more important than civil unions.
The demands and frustration of Italian LGBT groups may be alarming to the so-called silent majority. Their demands, like those of fundamentalist pro-life groups, will likely fall by the wayside for now. This reinforces the pragmatic spirit of Renzi's government and his advisor and representative, Minister of Constitutional Reforms Maria Elena Boschi.
After 20 years of negotiations, a solution seems to be within reach. Italy should be able to avoid further condemnation by the European Court of Human Rights, which has asked the country to legally recognize same-sex couples.